Following what many found mixed messages about lockdown strategy over this long weekend, not to mention the PM’s absence from last night’s Downing Street Briefing, heads of police forces have confirmed that lockdown is slowly ‘ebbing away’. They reckon there’s about a 10% increase in foot and road traffic compared with the start, and that they won’t be able to police it this weekend. A south of England chief said ‘The public are getting tired’ – a key point because behavioural scientists (if they were asked) might say that 6 weeks is the limit of people’s tolerance given confused policy on most aspects of this crisis strategy. Dominic Raab nevertheless stuck to his script, which is making less and less sense by the day because people are seeing a change, reinforced by the press: “As we enter another long bank holiday weekend I think the message is very clear: follow the guidance. There is no change today in the guidance or in the rules, but the prime minister will set out a roadmap on Sunday.” Some descriptors said to be characterising the ‘roadmap’ are modest, small and incremental, thought to show the government’s nervousness about it, suggested one commentator. Just see what happens around your way over the weekend – lockdown has been ebbing away for some weeks now.
I’d imagine quite a few were shouting their radios and tellies during last night’s broadcast of Question Time. Writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch was impressive, putting environment minister George Eustice’s poor performance even more in the shade. He couldn’t defend the government’s record (the predictable subject of the first question, asked by Margaret), kept resorting to the now risible ‘ramping up’ cliché, and couldn’t explain how the contact tracing app would work even though it’s currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight. After the panel’s contributions Margaret was asked by Fiona Bruce whether she was now satisfied and the response was a one word ‘No’.
Although the PM’s approval rating has declined since the start or lockdown (67% to 52%), it seems a substantial number still see him as managing the crisis well in the face of solid evidence to the contrary. Could this be one of the reasons, besides a reluctance to criticise authority? And reluctance to have doubt cast on their judgement if they voted for him?
Radio presenter James O’Brien tweeted: ‘So many people remain incapable of contemplating the possibility that Boris Johnson has been appallingly negligent & dishonest about *this* because it would mean they had to accept the possibility that he had been appallingly negligent & dishonest about *that*.’
Re the contact tracing app, which has raised privacy concerns, an interesting piece on Bloomberg Opinion by Andreas Kluth (If we’re going to build a surveillance state let’s do it properly) captures the dilemma most countries are facing. This is ‘balancing individual freedoms with the need to collect data’ (and at least one on BBCQT said we must sacrifice the first in order to save lives via the second). Kluth suggests we need a hybrid model, avoiding the extremes of ‘US libertarianism and Chinese authoritarianism’, citing the example of Taiwan, which is using ‘participatory self-surveillance’. In this model, citizens voluntarily partner with the government in a two-way information exchange, top down and bottom up (and it’s surely bottom up we are missing here), so that everyone’s involved in a joint enterprise of data capture and use. Kluth sees the only real alternative to this as ‘interminable lockdowns that rob us of more freedom’. Can anyone see participatory self-surveillance happening here? Even if the idea got public support, it seems unlikely that such a centralised, command-style government would take it up.
To what extent is VE Day being used to deflect from shambolic pandemic crisis management? Quite a bit, it seems, if media coverage is anything to go by. No doubt later there’ll be substantial coverage of fluttering bunting, distanced gatherings, singing and so on, but my mini research poll suggested little appetite for it. Some respondents declared themselves patriotic, planning to drink champagne, but mostly the feeling was that it would be tasteless to celebrate amid so many COVID deaths. It seems important to quietly recognise the sacrifices so many made during WW2 but many won’t feel like partying. A small group of neighbours here observed the two minute silence at 11 am and that feels enough. “The people who thought least celebrated most and the people who thought most celebrated least”, observed Max Hastings on BBC World at One.
The latest piece of programming on Coronavirus fallout is one focusing on the economy, asking what damage are the pandemic and lockdown doing to the economy and what could happen next? ‘David Aaronovitch explores the economic impact of physical distancing on business, whether our fast expanding national debt is sustainable and the threat posed by declining consumer confidence on our economic recovery. Does history offer a guide as to how and when people should return to work and government support be turned off? And what will our economy look like when the lockdown is eased?’
Health Science Journal reports that Care Quality Commission data now reveals that deaths of patients detained under the Mental Health Act are running at five times the rate of 2019, half due to the virus. This confirms the fears expressed anonymously recently that psychiatric wards were especially difficult environments, because of lack of PPE and patients’ lack of capacity meaning they wouldn’t understand why they should distance, receive no visitors and have no leave. 112 died between March and May (in hospital and the community), compared with 56 deaths during the same period of 2019, 61 deaths in 2018, and 70 deaths in 2017.
Dr Kevin Cleary, deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health said: “That a number of people detained under the Mental Health Act have died from suspected or confirmed coronavirus is a particular worry as these are some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
On the theme of mental wellbeing again, what’s known as the gratitude exercise (or similar) is very helpful to engage with, although it might sound a bit cheesy if you haven’t come across it previously. It basically means thinking of and appreciating 5 -10 things in your day which have been positive, however small. It’s common to overlook small things and maybe think nothing good’s happened today, but reflecting for a few minutes will usually throw up at least four or five, such as someone smiling at you while out walking/shopping or whatever. Today I had at least three good things before lunchtime: someone buying me a pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg tart); getting a good view of the recently hatched baby coots because the hen bird was off the nest for the first time during my visits; and sniffing a delicious lilac not far from home, discovering the gardener was a nodding terms neighbour and having a good conversation about gardening and other things. Hoping to have a few more before the day’s out!
Finally, The Week tells us that the Oxford English Dictionary has added another print run in order to include COVID-related terms which have come into common usage. These include ‘social distancing’, ‘personal protective equipment’ and ‘flatten the curve’. Separately, social media have listed about 20 soundbites, including ‘ramping up’, ‘straining every sinew’, ‘working around the clock’ and ‘following the science’.